Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Another thought-provoking tear-jerker in the Outlander series about a 20th century woman in 18th century Scotland. I am amazed that I had never heard of Diana Gabaldon before this year. Apparently she is a New York Times best-selling author and winner of several awards. She doesn’t quite fit into a recognized genre; according to Wikipedia “her books contain elements of romantic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, adventure, and science fiction.” Well-said.
Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon
A worthy sequel to Oath of Fealty, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Elizabeth Moon’s fantasy novels seems more realistic than most, which isn’t a bad thing. For example, one of the characters is blinded in a battle, and has to adapt to his disability. In many novels he would just have been killed off. Similarly, we learn about the effect of wars and evil magic on children in a way that many writers ignore. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.
Artistic License by Katie Fforde (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005)
For reasons I am not clear on, a lot of romance novels seems to take place in the United Kingdom. Are we just not romantic enough here in the U.S.? This is an original and entertaining novel about a young woman photographer/art gallery owner with leanings towards domesticity and children. I would rate it somewhere between Sophie Kinsella and Maeve Binchy in terms of seriousness. Certainly it’s not as philosophical as Alexander McCall Smith’s novels, but that’s OK. It reminded me (in a good way) of both Kinsella and Binchy, while not being at all formulaic. I wouldn’t be surprised if it became a movie someday just like The Diary of Bridget Jones.
Babylon Sisters by Pearl Cleage (One World/Ballantine, 2006)
You don’t have to be black to enjoy Pearl Cleage’s novels. She writes in a middle class voice without ghetto slang and mannerisms, so everyone can relate to her characters. However the storyline about a single black mother (of one child) who is now a hugely successful professional is one I’ve read several times before from black novelists. Frankly it’s becoming less and less plausible in today’s economy that anyone could be so in demand that people offer them jobs out of the blue. Also, I wonder if these novelists realize that it is only the fact that their heroines had babies out of wedlock while barely out of their teens that means they can still be under 40 and gorgeous when their kids graduate high school. I won’t give away the ending but it is a surprise, at least to naive readers like me. And of course, she gets her man.
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon (Vintage Contemporaries, 2004)
This novel has been on best-seller lists for a while, but I didn’t think I would be interested in something categorized as “literature.” Ironically it turned out to be one of the few novels I’ve ever read that contained math problems. Not exactly a murder mystery, it’s a refreshing take on modern (British) life as observed by an intelligent but autistic teen boy whose parents have some child custody issues. The main character can talk, write, and do advanced math, he just can’t cope with crowds or people touching him. The author seems to have captured the autistic worldview very well, including the literal bent and the scientific focus. It would be interesting to sit in on a book group discussion of this one to hear how other people react to it.
Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon (Random House, 2010).
This novel is set in the fantasy world and time of Elizabeth Moon’s earlier series which began with Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, but involves different characters. After you adjust to all the myriad names of places and people, and weird new labels for ordinary concepts (like “glass” as a unit of time), it becomes pretty absorbing. The author has clearly put some thought into the religious structure of her fantasy world, defining not just good and evil but entire sects that follow each path. The characters seem to truly believe in their respective faiths, not just go along with them the way they do in many fantasy worlds. They also take seriously their oaths of fealty to their dukes and kings; this is not a world of cynics like the folk in A Dance with Dragons. It’s also very much a military novel (like all of Moon’s books), with a lot of day-to-day military stuff like sword drills and patrolling the countryside.